December 1964 | Volume 16, Issue 1
Not all the Hessians taken prisoner at Saratoga were soldiers, nor were all of them men. There was also, with her three small daughers,
Her full name was Frederika Charlotte Louise, Baroness von Riedesel, and according to contemporary admirers she was a “most amiable companion and Friend,” and a “cheerful, affable well bred woman.” It is also clear from her writings that she was a singularly adaptable person. When she came to America in 1777 to be with her husband, Baron Friedrich Adolph von Riedesel of Brunswick, commander of the Brunswickers and Hessians attached to the army of “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne, she proved thoroughly capable of dealing not only with three young children and a retinue of servants, but with a strange country, a new language, and the trials and terrors of war. In fact, during the years that followed the defeat of the combined British and German forces at Saratoga, the Baroness put up with the humiliations and hardships of semi-captivity with considerably more fortitude than her ailing and nervous husband.
After she returned home to Germany in 1783, she set down an account of her “tour of duty” in America, intending it only for her family’s eyes, but it aroused so much interest that an edition was offered to the public in Berlin in 1800. Her charming, direct, and highly feminine account of the Revolutionary period has long served as source material for historians, but no complete English translation was made until 1867, and it has long been out of print. A new edition entitled Baroness von Riedesel and the American Revolution, edited and translated by Marvin L. Brown, will be published by the University of North Carolina Press in January, 1965. In the excerpt which follows, we join the Baroness with Burgoyne’s army in September of 1777, as it was driving southward from Canada toward Albany as part of an elaborate campaign to divide the colonies and end the rebellion. —The Editors
When the army marched again [September 11, 1777], it was at first decided that I was to stay behind, but upon my urgent entreaty, as some of the other ladies had followed the army, I was likewise finally allowed to do so. We travelled only a short distance each day and were very often sorely tried, but nevertheless we were happy to be allowed to follow at all. I had the joy of seeing my husband every day. … Everything went well at first. We had high hopes of victory, and when we had crossed the Hudson and General Burgoyne said, “Britons never retreat,” we were all in very high spirits. It displeased me, however, that the officers’ wives were familiar with all of the army’s plans. … Even the Americans were acquainted with all our plans in advance, with the result that wherever we came they were ready for us, which cost us dearly. On September 19 there was a battle, which, although it resulted in our favor, forced us to halt at a place called Freeman’s Farm. I saw the whole battle myself, and, knowing that my husband was taking part in it, I was filled with fear and anguish and shivered whenever a shot was fired, as nothing escaped my ear. I saw a number of wounded men and, what was even worse, three of them were brought to the house where I was. One of them was Major Harnage, the husband of one of the ladies of our party, the second a lieutenant, whose wife was also an acquaintance of ours, and the third was a young English officer named Young. Major Harnage and his wife had the room next to mine. He had been shot in the abdomen and suffered much. A few days after our arrival I heard moaning in the other room next to mine and learned that it was the young English officer, Young, who was suffering great pain from his wound. …
I sent word to him that I would be glad to do whatever I could for him and sent some food and refreshment. He expressed a great desire to see his “benefactress,” as he called me. I went to him and found him lying on some straw, as he had lost all his baggage. He was a young man of about 18 or 19 years old, and an
only son. His parents were his only concern; he uttered no complaint about his pain. He had lost a great deal of blood, and the doctors wanted to amputate his leg, but he would not let them, and now gangrene had set in. I sent him some pillows and blankets, and my maids sent a mattress. I redoubled my efforts to help him and visited him every day, for which he called down a thousand blessings upon me. In the end the amputation was attempted, but it was too late, and he died a few days later. As he lay in the room next to mine, the walls being very thin, I could hear his groaning until the end came.
The house where I was staying was fairly well built, and I had a large room. The doors and wainscot were of solid cedar, which is quite common here. It is often used for firewood, particularly when there are many insects, because they cannot bear the smell of it. It is said, though, that the smoke is bad for the nerves, and that it can even cause pregnant women to give birth prematurely. When we marched on I had a large calash readied, with room for myself and the three children and my two maids; thus I followed the army right in the midst of the soldiers, who sang and were jolly, burning with the desire for victory. We passed through endless woods, and the country was magnificent, but completely deserted, as all the people had fled before and had gone to strengthen the American army under General Gates. This was a great disadvantage for us, because every inhabitant is a born soldier and a good marksman; in addition, the thought of fighting for their country and for freedom made them braver than ever.
All this time my husband, like the rest of the army, had to stay in camp. I followed at about an hour’s distance and visited my husband in camp every morning. Sometimes I had dinner with him in camp, but mostly he came to my place for dinner. The army made brief attacks every day, but none of them amounted to much. My poor husband, however, was unable to go to bed, or even undress a single night. As the weather was beginning to grow cool, Colonel Williams of the artillery, observing that our mutual visits were very fatiguing, offered to have a house with a chimney built for me for five to six guineas, where I could make my home. I accepted his offer, and the house, which was about twenty feet square and had a good fireplace, was begun. These houses are called log cabins. They are made by fitting together thick logs all of about the same size, which makes a sturdy building, and one that is quite warm, particularly when the roof is covered with clay. The house was ready for me to move into the next day, and I was all the more happy, because the nights were getting damp and cold, and my husband could have lived there with me, as the house was near his camp; but suddenly on October 7 my husband, with his whole staff, had to break camp. This moment was the beginning of our unhappiness! I was just taking breakfast with my husband when I noticed that something was going on. General [Simon] Fraser and, I think, General Burgoyne and General Phillips [Major General William Phillips, Burgoyne’s second in command] also were to have had dinner that same day with me. I noticed a great deal of commotion among the soldiers. My husband told me that they were to go out on a reconnaissance, of which I thought nothing, as this often happened. On my way back to the house I met a number of savages [Indians serving under General von Riedesel] in war dress, carrying guns. When I asked them whither they were bound, they replied, “War! War!"—which meant that they were going into battle. I was completely overwhelmed and had hardly returned to the house when I heard firing, which grew heavier and heavier until the noise was frightful. It was a terrible bombardment, and I was more dead than alive!
Toward three o’clock in the afternoon, instead of my dinner guests arriving as expected, poor General Fraser, who was to have been one of them, was brought to me on a stretcher, mortally wounded. The table, which had already been set for dinner, was removed and a bed for the General was put in its place. I sat in a corner of the room, shivering and trembling. The noise of the firing grew constantly louder. The thought that perhaps my husband would also be brought home wounded was terrifying and worried me incessantly. The General said to the doctor, “Don’t conceal anything from me! Must I die?” The bullet had gone through his abdomen precisely as in Major Harnage’s case; unfortunately the General had eaten a heavy breakfast, so that the intestines were expanded, and, as the doctor explained, the bullet had gone through them, not between them, as in Major Harnage’s case. I heard him often exclaim, between moans, “Oh, fatal ambition! Poor General Burgoyne! Poor Mrs. Fraser.” Prayers were said, then he asked that General Burgoyne have him buried the next day at six o’clock in the evening, on a hill, which was a sort of redoubt. I no longer knew where to go; the whole hall and the other rooms were full of sick men, suffering from camp sickness. Finally toward evening I saw my husband coming; then I forgot all my sorrow and had no other thought but to thank God for sparing him! He ate in great haste with me and his aides behind the house. We had been told that we had gained an advantage over the enemy, but the sad, disheartened faces I saw indicated quite the contrary, and before his departure again my husband took me aside and told me that things were going badly and that I must be ready to leave at any moment, but not to let anyone notice this. On the pretext, therefore, of wanting to move into my new house I had all my things packed. … Then I went back to my children, whom I had put to bed. I, myself, could not sleep, as I had General Fraser and all the other gentlemen in my room, and I was constantly afraid that my children might wake up and cry, thus disturbing the poor dying man, who kept apologizing to me for causing me so much trouble. Toward three o’clock in the morning I was told that the end was near. I had asked to be told of the approach of this moment; I wrapped the children in blankets and went into the hall with them. At eight o’clock in the morning he died. His body was washed, wrapped in a sheet, and put back into the bed. Then we returned to the room and had to see this sad sight throughout the day. Moreover, wounded officers of our acquaintance kept arriving, and the bombardment was renewed again and again. There was talk of making a retreat, but no steps were taken in this direction. Toward four o’clock in the afternoon I saw flames rising from the new house which had been built for me, so I knew that the enemy was not far away.
We learned that General Burgoyne wanted to carry out General Fraser’s last wish and intended having him buried in the place designated at six o’clock. This caused an unnecessary delay and served to increase the army’s misfortune. At precisely six o’clock the body was actually carried away, and we saw all the generals and their staffs take part in the funeral services on the hilltop. The English chaplain, Mr. Brudenel, held the services. Cannon balls constantly flew around and over the heads of the mourners. The American General Gates said later on that, had he known that a funeral was being held, he would have allowed no firing in that direction. A number of cannon balls also flew about where I stood, but I had no thought for my own safety, my eyes being constantly directed toward the hill, where I could see my husband distinctly, standing in the midst of the enemy’s fire.
The command had been given for the army to withdraw immediately after the funeral, and our calashes were ready and waiting. I did not want to leave before the troops did. Major Harnage, miserably ill as he was, crept out of bed so that he would not be left behind in the hospital, over which a flag of truce had been raised. When he saw me standing in the midst of danger, he ordered my children and the maidservants to be brought to the calashes and told me I would have to leave immediately. When I repeated my plea to be allowed to stay, he said, “All right, then your children must go without you, so that I can at least save them from danger.” He knew the weakest spot in my armor and thus persuaded me to get into the calash, and we drove away on the evening of the 8th.
We had been warned to keep extremely quiet, fires were left burning everywhere, and many tents were left standing, so that the enemy would think the camp was still there. Thus we drove on all through the night. Little Frederika was very much frightened, often starting to cry, and I had to hold my handkerchief over her mouth to prevent our being discovered.
At six o’clock in the morning we stopped, to the amazement of all. General Burgoyne ordered the cannons to be lined up and counted, which vexed everyone because only a few more good marches and we would have been in safety. My husband was completely exhausted and during this halt sat in my calash, where my maids had to make room for him and where he slept about three hours with his head on my shoulder. In the meantime Captain Willoe brought me his wallet with banknotes, and Captain Geismar brought me his beautiful watch, a ring, and a well-filled purse and asked me to take care of these things for them. I promised to do my utmost. Finally the order was given to march on, but we had hardly gone an hour when we stopped again, because we caught sight of the enemy. There were about two hundred men who had come out to reconnoiter and could easily have been taken prisoners by our troops, if General Burgoyne had not lost his head. …
We spent the whole of the gth in a terrible rainstorm, ready to march on at a moment’s notice. The savages had lost courage, and everywhere they were seen retreating. The slightest setback makes cowards of them, especially if they see no chance of plundering. My maid did nothing but bemoan her plight and tear her hair. I begged her to quiet herself, as otherwise she would be taken for a savage. Hereupon she became still more frantic, and she asked me whether I minded her behavior, and when I answered, “Yes,” she tore off her hat, let her hair hang down over her face, and said, “It is easy for you to talk! You have your husband, but we have nothing except the prospect of being killed or losing all we have.” With regard to the latter I consoled her by promising that I would compensate her and the others for anything they might lose. The other maid, my good Lena, although very much afraid, nevertheless said nothing.
Toward evening we finally reached Saratoga, which is only half an hour on the way from the place where we had spent the whole day. I was wet to the skin from the rain and had to remain so throughout the night as there was no place to change into dry clothes. So I sat down before a good fire, took off the children’s clothes, and then we lay down together on some straw. I asked General Phillips, who came up to me, why we did not continue our retreat while there was yet time, as my husband had promised to cover our retreat and bring the army through. “Poor woman,” he said, “I admire you! Thoroughly drenched as you are, you still have the courage to go on in this weather. If only you were our commanding general! He thinks himself too tired and wants to spend the night here and give us a supper.” In fact, Burgoyne liked having a jolly time and spending half the night singing and drinking and amusing himself in the company of the wife of a commissary, who was his mistress and, like him, loved champagne.
On the ioth at seven o’clock in the morning I refreshed myself with a cup of tea, and we now hoped from one moment to the next that we would at last proceed. In order to cover the retreat General Burgoyne ordered fire set to the beautiful houses and mills in Saratoga belonging to General Schuyler. [Philip John Schuyler was a member of the Second Continental Congress and a wealthy New York landowner. He had been in command of the Northern Army in New York until two months before this time, when, after the British recaptured Ticonderoga, he was replaced by General Horatio Gates. It was in one of Schuyler’s houses that Burgoyne had been “having a jolly time."] The greatest misery and extreme disorder prevailed in the army. The commissary had forgotten to distribute the food supplies among the troops; there were cattle enough, but not a single one had been slaughtered. More than thirty officers came to me because they could stand the hunger no longer. I had coffee and tea made for them and divided among them all the supplies with which my carriage was always filled; for we had a cook with us who, though an archrogue, nevertheless always knew how to get hold of something for us and, as we learned later, often crossed streams at night in order to steal from, the farmers sheep, chickens, and pigs, which he sold to us at a good price.
Finally my own supplies were exhausted, and in my desperation at no longer being able to help the others, I called to Adjutant-General Petersham, who was just passing by, and, as I was really very much worried, I said to him vehemently: “Come and look at these officers who have been wounded in the common cause and who lack everything they need because they are not getting their due. It is your duty to speak with the General about this.” He was very much moved, and, as a result, about a quarter of an hour later General Burgoyne himself came to me and thanked me most pathetically for having reminded him of his duty. He added that a commander is very much to be pitied if he is not properly served and his orders correctly executed. I asked his pardon for having interfered in matters which I well knew were not a woman’s business, but said that it had been impossible for me to keep still when I saw how these gallant persons were in need of everything and I, myself, had nothing more to give them. Thereupon he thanked me yet again (although I believe in his heart he never forgave me for this interference) and went to the officers and told them how sorry he was about what had happened; that he had, however, taken care of all by an order; but why, he asked them, had they not come to him for food, as his kitchen was at their disposal at all times? They replied that English officers were not accustomed to visiting the kitchens of their general, and that they had taken each morsel from me with pleasure, being convinced that I had given it to them from the heart. Thereupon he gave strict orders that the provisions be properly distributed. This only delayed us still further and availed us nothing. The General resumed his place at the table, and our calashes were harnessed and made ready for departure. The whole army was in favor of making a retreat, and my husband said it could be done, if only we lost no time. General Burgoyne . . . could not make up his mind to leave and lost everything by tarrying.
Toward two o’clock in the afternoon we heard cannon and musketry again, and alarm and confusion prevailed. My husband sent me word to get immediately to a house which was not far away. I got into the calash with my children, and just as we came up to the house I saw five or six men on the other side of the Hudson, who were aiming their guns at us. Almost involuntarily I thrust my children onto the floor of the calash and threw myself over them. The same instant the fellows fired and shattered the arm of a poor English soldier behind me, who had already been wounded and was retiring into the house. Immediately after our arrival a terrifying cannonade began, which was directed principally at the house where we sought shelter, presumably because the enemy, seeing so many people fleeing thither, got the idea that the generals themselves were there. But, alas, the house contained only the wounded and women! We were finally forced to seek refuge in the cellar, where I found a place for myself and the children in a corner near the door. My children lay on the floor with their heads in my lap. And thus we spent the whole night. The horrible smell in the cellar, the weeping of the children, and, even worse, my own fear prevented me from closing my eyes.
Next morning the cannonade went on again, but from the other side. I suggested that everyone leave the cellar for a while so that I could have it cleaned, because otherwise we would all become sick. My suggestion was carried out, and I got many to help, which was highly necessary for this extensive task; the women and children, afraid to go outside, had polluted the entire cellar. When everybody had gone out, I examined our place of refuge; there were three fine cellars with well-vaulted ceilings. I suggested that the most seriously wounded men be put into one cellar, the women in another, and all the others in the third, which was nearest to the door. I had everything swept thoroughly and fumigated with vinegar, when, just as everyone was about to take his place, renewed, terrific cannon fire created another alarm. Many who had no right to enter threw themselves against the door. My children had already gone down the cellar steps, and we would all have been crushed if God had not given me the strength to keep the crowd back by standing in front of the door with outspread arms; otherwise surely someone would have been injured. Eleven cannon balls flew through the house, and we could distinctly hear them rolling about over our heads. One of the poor soldiers who lay on a table, and was just about to have his leg amputated, had the other leg shot off by one of these balls. His comrades had run away from him, and when they returned they found him scarcely breathing, lying in a corner of the room, where he had rolled himself in his agony. I was more dead than alive, not so much on account of our danger as for the danger that hung over my husband, who kept inquiring how we were and sending me word that he was all right. …
Next morning we started putting things in better order. Major Harnage and his wife and Mrs. Rennels [the wife of an officer who had already been killed] 70 made a room for themselves in one corner by partitioning it off with curtains. They wanted to fix up another corner for me just like it, but I preferred staying near the door so that in case of fire I would be able to get out as quickly as possible. I had some straw put down, laid my bedclothes on it, and slept there with the children, with my serving women not far away. Opposite us there were three English officers who had been wounded, but who were determined, in case of retreat, not to stay behind. One of them was a Captain Green, aide to General Phillips, a very estimable and polite man. All three assured me on oath that in case of a hasty retreat they would not forsake me, but that each of them would take one of my children with him on his horse. One of my husband’s horses stood saddled and ready for me all the time. My husband often wanted to send me to the Americans, in order to put me out of danger, but I told him it would be worse than anything I had had to bear heretofore to be with people to whom I should have to be polite while my husband was fighting them. He promised me, therefore, that I could continue to follow the army. Many a time in the night, however, I was seized with the fear that he had marched away, and I crept out of my cellar to see; when I saw the troops lying by the fire, as the nights had already grown cold, I was able to sleep more tranquilly again. The things which had been entrusted to me for safekeeping also worried me. I had put them all in the front of my corset because I was constantly afraid of losing part of them, and I made up my mind never again to take such a responsibility upon myself. On the third day I found the first opportunity and a moment to change my underclothing when the courtesy of a small corner was allowed me. Meanwhile, my three above-mentioned officers stood sentry not far off. One of these gentlemen could imitate most realistically the mooing of a cow and the bleating of a calf. Whenever my little daughter Frederika cried at night, he made these sounds for her, and she would become quiet again immediately, at which we all had to laugh.
Our cook brought us food, but we had no water, and I was often obliged to quench my thirst with wine and even had to give the children some. Moreover, it was almost the only drink my husband would take. This finally began to worry our faithful Rockel [a servant], who said to me one day, “I fear that the General drinks all this wine because he is afraid of being taken prisoner, and that he is tired of living.” The constant danger which surrounded my husband kept me in continuous anxiety. I was the only one among all the women whose husband had not been either killed or at least wounded, and I often said to myself, “Should I be the only lucky one?"—particularly as my husband was in such great danger day and night. He did not spend a single night in the tent, but lay outside by the sentry’s fire all night long. That, alone, was enough to cause his death, as the nights were so damp and cold.
Because we were badly in need of water, we finally found the wife of one of the soldiers who was brave enough to go to the river to fetch some. This was a thing nobody wanted to risk doing, because the enemy shot every man in the head who went near the river. However, they did not hurt the woman out of respect for her sex, as they told us themselves afterwards.
I tried to divert my mind by busying myself with our wounded. I made tea and coffee for them, for which I received a thousand blessings. Often I shared my dinner with them. One day a Canadian officer came into the cellar, so weak that he could hardly stand up. We finally got it out of him that he was almost starved to death. I was very happy to be able to give him my own dinner, which gave him renewed strength and won me his friendship.
One of the worst things we had to bear was the odor which came from the wounds when they began to fester. At one time I was nursing a Major Bloomfield, aide to General Phillips, who had a bullet shot through both cheeks, smashing his teeth and grazing his tongue. He could not keep anything in his mouth; the pus almost choked him, and he could not take any nourishment at all except a little bouillon or other liquid. We had some Rhine wine. I gave him a bottle, hoping that the acid would cleanse his wounds. He took a little of it in his mouth, and this alone had such a fortunate effect that his wounds healed entirely, and I gained another friend.
On one of these unhappy days General Phillips wanted to visit me and accompanied my husband, who came to me once or twice every day at the risk of his life. He saw our plight and heard me beg my husband not to leave me behind in case of a hasty retreat. He took my part when he saw how I hated the thought of being left with the Americans. When he left me he said to my husband, “No! I would not come here again for ten thousand guineas, for my heart is absolutely broken.”
On the other hand, not all the men who were with us deserved pity. Some of them were cowards who had no reason whatever for staying in the cellar, and who later when we were taken prisoners, were well able to stand up in line and inarch. We were in this dreadful position six days. Finally there was talk of capitulation, as by delaying too long our retreat was now cut off. A cessation of hostilities took place, and my husband, who was completely exhausted, could sleep in a bed in the house for the first time in a long while. In order that he would be absolutely undisturbed I had a good bed made for him in a small room and slept with my children and the maids in a large hall close by. At about nine o’clock in the morning someone came and wanted to speak to my husband. With the greatest reluctance I found it necessary to wake him. I noticed that he was not pleased about the message he received and that he immediately sent the man to headquarters and lay down again, much annoyed. Shortly afterward General Burgoyne sent for all the other generals and staff officers to attend a council of war early in the morning, during which he suggested, on the basis of a false report, that the capitulation which had already been made to the enemy be broken. However, it was finally decided that this would be neither practicable nor advisable, and that was a lucky decision for us, because the Americans told us later that, had we broken the capitulation, we would all have been massacred, which would have been an easy matter, because there were only four to five thousand of us, and we had given them time to get more than twenty thousand of their men together.
On October 16 my husband had to go back to duty, and I had to return to my cellar. That day the officers, who until then had received only salted meat, which was very bad for the wounded, were given a lot of fresh meat. The good woman who always got the water for us cooked a tasty soup with it. I had lost all appetite and had eaten nothing the whole time except a crust of bread dipped in wine. The wounded officers, my companions in misfortune, cut off the best piece of beef and presented it to me with a plate of soup. I told them it was impossible for me to eat anything. Seeing, however, how much in need of nourishment I was, they declared that they would not eat a bite themselves until I had given them the pleasure of joining them. I could no longer resist their friendly pleading, whereupon they assured me that it made them most happy to be able to share with me the first good food they had received.
On October 17 the capitulation went into effect. The generals went to the American commanding general, General Gates, and the troops laid down their arms and surrendered themselves as prisoners of war. The good woman who had fetched water for us at the risk of her life now got her reward. Everyone threw a handful of money into her apron, and she received altogether more than twenty guineas. In moments like this the heart seems to overflow in gratitude.
At last my husband sent a groom to me with the message that I should come to him with our children. I got into my beloved calash again, and while driving through the American camp I was comforted to notice that nobody glanced at us insultingly, that they all bowed to me, and some of them even looked with pity to see a woman with small children there. I confess that I was afraid to go to the enemy, as it was an entirely new experience for me. When I approached the tents a very handsome man came toward me, lifted the children out of the calash, hugged and kissed them, and then, with tears in his eyes, helped me out. “You are trembling,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” “No,” I answered, “I am not, for you look so kind and were so affectionate to my children that you have given me courage.” He led me to the tent of General Gates, where I found General Burgoyne and General Phillips, who were on very friendly terms with the former. Burgoyne said to me, “Have no fear, for your sufferings have now come to an end.” I replied that of course it would be wrong to be afraid any longer if our leader were not and after seeing him on such good terms with General Gates. All the generals stayed with General Gates for dinner. The same man who had welcomed me so kindly came up to me, saying, “It would embarrass you to take dinner with all these gentlemen; come to my tent with your children, and although I can only give you a frugal meal, it will be given gladly.” “Surely,” I replied, “you are a husband and father, because you are so good to me.” I learned then that he was the American General Schuyler. He treated me to delicious smoked tongue, beefsteaks, potatoes, and good bread and butter. No dinner had ever tasted better to me. I was content. I saw that all about me were likewise, and, most important of all, my husband was out of danger.
When we had finished eating, he offered to let me live in his house [the Schuyler family home] near Albany, and told me that General Burgoyne would also come there. I sent my husband a message, asking what I should do. He told me to accept the invitation, and as it was a two days’ journey and was already five o’clock in the afternoon, he suggested that I go on ahead and spend the night at a place about three hours from there. General Schuyler was kind enough to let a French officer take me there, a very polite man, the one in command of the troops who had reconnoitered the area and whom I have already mentioned. When he had brought us to the house where we were to spend the night, he returned to camp.
I found a French doctor at this house with a mortally wounded Brunswick officer, who had been put in his care and who died a few days later. The patient was full of praise for the doctor’s treatment, and perhaps he was a skilled surgeon, but otherwise he was a young fop. He was very pleased to hear that I could speak his language and began to say all sorts of sweet things and impertinences to me, among which, that he could not possibly believe that I was a general’s wife, because a woman of such high rank would never have joined her husband. I should, therefore, stay with him, as it would be better to stay with victors than with the defeated. I was furious over his boldness but did not dare to show how much contempt I felt for him, because I was without protection. When night came he offered to let me share his room with him. I replied, however, that I would sit up in the room of the wounded soldier, whereupon he made me a lot of silly compliments, when suddenly the door opened and my husband and his aide entered. “Here, sir, is my husband,” I said to him with a withering glance, whereupon he departed shamefacedly. Nevertheless, he was polite enough to give us his room.
The next day we arrived in Albany, where we had so often longed to be. But we did not come as victors, as we had thought. We were welcomed by good General Schuyler, his wife, and daughters not as enemies, but in the friendliest manner possible, and they were exceedingly kind to us as well as to General Burgoyne, although he had had their beautifully furnished houses set on fire, needlessly, it is said. Their behavior was that of people who can turn from their own loss to the misfortune of others. General Burgoyne, too, was very much touched by their magnanimity and said to General Schuyler, “You are so kind to me who caused you so much damage.” “Such is the fate of war,” the gallant man replied. “Let us not talk about it any more.” We stayed with them three days, and they assured us that they regretted seeing us go.
Our cook had stayed in town with my husband’s equipment. The second night after our arrival all our things were stolen, in spite of the American guard of ten to twenty men, who had been ordered to keep watch. We had nothing left except my own and the children’s bedding and the few household articles which I kept with me—and this in a country where nothing could be bought at any price, and at a time when we so badly needed many things; for my husband had to furnish board for all his aides, quartermasters, and others. Our friends, the English, of whom I speak truly as friends, because throughout our stay in America they have always treated us as such, each made us a present of some article. One gave a couple of spoons, another a few plates. It was all we had for a long time, because not until three years later in New York did we have the opportunity of replacing at great cost the things we had lost. Fortunately, I had kept my little conveyance containing my own things. As it was late in the fall, and the weather was getting raw, I had made for my calash a top of coarse linen painted with oil paint. Thus we drove to Boston—a tedious and difficult journey.
It took the 5,joo soldiers captured by the Americans at Saratoga almost three weeks to march to Boston. The Riedesels joined the march in their calash after their three-day stopover at General Schuyler’s house in Albany. Although the defeated army travelled under guard they were not, by the terms of the surrender, prisoners of war, but “troops of the Convention.” This technicality, based on a promise made to Burgoyne by Gates at Saratoga, improved the conditions of the defeated army on their trek to Boston, but the agreement was not subsequently honored by the Continental Congress. The status of the prisoners, and particularly of the von Riedesels and other officers, remained, therefore, ambiguous throughout their captivity.
I do not know whether it was my vehicle which aroused the people’s curiosity, for it really looked like a wagon in which rare animals were being transported, but I was often obliged to stop, because the people wanted to see the German general’s wife with her children. In order to prevent them from tearing the linen top off the carriage, I decided it was better to alight frequently, and thus I got away more quickly than otherwise. But even so, I cannot deny that the people were friendly and were particularly pleased to hear that I could speak their native language, English.
In all my suffering God blessed me with His help, so that I lost neither my gaiety nor my courage; but my poor husband, who was consumed by sadness over everything that had happened and by his captivity, was very much annoyed by such episodes as these, and could scarcely endure them. His health had suffered greatly, especially from the many nights spent outdoors in the cold and dampness, and, accordingly, he often had to take medicine. One day when he was very weak from the effects of an emetic, he could not sleep on account of the noise made by our American guards, who never left us, and who were drinking and feasting outside our door and who became even noisier when he asked them to be quiet. I decided to go out myself, and I told them that my husband was ill and begged them, therefore, to be a bit less noisy. They ceased at once and all was quiet. Here is proof that this nation also has respect for our sex.
Some of their generals who accompanied us were shoemakers by trade, and on days when we rested made boots for our officers and also repaired the shoes of our officers. They very much prized coined money, which for them was very scarce. One of our officers’ boots were completely torn. He saw that an American general was wearing a good pair and jestingly said to him, “I would gladly give you a guinea for them.” The general immediately jumped off his horse, took the guinea, gave the officer his boots, and wearing the officer’s torn pair, mounted his horse again.
We finally reached Boston, and our troops were quartered in barracks not far away, on Winter Hill. We were put up at a farmer’s house, where we were given only one room in the attic. My maids slept on the floor, and the men in the hall. Some straw on which I had spread our bedding was all we had for a long while on which to sleep, since I had nothing other than my field bed. Our host allowed us to eat downstairs in his room, where his whole family ate and slept together. The man was good, but his wife, in revenge for the bother we caused her, deliberately chose to vex us during our mealtime by combing her children’s hair, which was full of vermin, often making us lose every bit of appetite, and when we asked her to do her combing outside, or at some other time, she replied, “It is my room; I see fit to stay and to comb my children now.” We had to hold our silence, for otherwise she might have turned us out of the house. …
We stayed in this place three weeks before we were then taken to Cambridge, where we were put up in one of the most beautiful houses, previously the property of royalists [ i.e. , loyalists]. I have never seen a lovelier location. Seven families, partly relatives and partly friends, had leasehold estates here with gardens and magnificent houses and orchards nearby. All these estates were only about an eighth of a mile apart from one another. The owners gathered every afternoon at one of the homes or another, where they enjoyed themselves with music and dancing, living happily in comfort and harmony until, alas, the devastating war separated them all, leaving all the houses desolate with the exception of two, whose owners shortly thereafter were also obliged to flee.
None of our gentlemen were permitted to go to Boston. My curiosity and the desire to see General Schuyler’s daughter, Mrs. Carter, impelled me to go, and I had dinner with her there several times. It is quite a pretty city, but inhabited by enthusiastic patriots and full of wicked people; the women, particularly, were horrid, casting ugly looks at me, and some of them even spitting when I passed by them. Mrs. Carter was gentle and good, like her parents, but her husband was a bad and treacherous person. They often visited us and ate with us and the other generals. We did our utmost to reciprocate their kindness. They seemed to feel very friendly toward us too, but it was during this time that this horrible Mr. Carter made the gruesome suggestion to the Americans, when the English General Howe had set fire to many villages and towns, to behead our generals, put the heads in small barrels, salt them, and send one of these barrels to the English for each village or town which they had set on fire. This beastly suggestion fortunately, however, was not adopted.
While in England I had become acquainted with a Captain Fenton of Boston, whose services the Americans had wanted when the war broke out, but who, being faithful to his King, had refused to obey. Hereupon the women among the embittered mob grabbed his wife, a most respectable lady, and his pretty fifteenyear-old daughter, and disregarding their goodness, beauty, and embarrassment, undressed them to the skin, tarred and feathered them, and paraded them through the city. What may one not expect from people of this sort, animated by the most bitter hate! . . .
Whenever the Americans want to gather their troops together, they set up lighted torches on every hilltop, at which signal everyone hastens to assemble. One day we witnessed General Howe’s attempt to land in Bos- ton in order to release the captured troops. As usual, the enemy had learned of this plan well in advance, set up their burning tar barrels as signals, and for three or four days we saw a mob most hastily assembled without shoes and stockings and with guns on their backs. In a short time so many had gathered that it would have been too difficult to make a landing.
We lived in Cambridge quite happily and would have liked to stay there as long as our troops were held prisoners, but as the winter drew near, we got orders to go to Virginia. I had to conceive some means now for bringing the flags of our German regiments into safety. We had told the Americans in Saratoga that they had been burned, which annoyed them very much at first, but they said nothing more about it. In fact, only the staves had been burned, and the flags themselves had been hidden. My husband entrusted me with this secret and assigned me the task of keeping the flags concealed. I got a trustworthy tailor, locked myself up in a room with him, and together we made a mattress, in which we sewed up all the flags. …
It was during the month of November, 1778, that we received orders to go to Virginia. Fortunately my husband found a pretty English carriage, which he bought for me so that we were able to travel more comfortably than before. …
I always had provisions with me, but in another wagon. As this other conveyance could not be driven as quickly as ours, we were often without any food. One time when we were passing through a town called Hartford, where we intended resting for one day, which we did every fourth day, we met General Lafayette, and my husband invited him to dinner, because he had been unable to find a place to eat. I was terribly embarrassed, because I knew that the General liked a good dinner. By using up all the provisions we possessed, I finally succeeded in having a pretty good dinner made after all. He was so polite and pleasant that we all liked him very much. He had a number of Americans in his party, who almost jumped out of their skins because we always talked French. It may be that they were afraid that, being on such friendly terms with him, we might win him over to our side, or that he might tell us things which they did not want us to know. He talked much of England and how the King had been so kind as to have him shown everything. I could not forbear asking him how he could have had the heart to accept so much kindness from the King just as he was about to leave for the purpose of fighting against him. He seemed rather embarrassed by my remark and said, “It is true that this thought also passed through my own mind one day when the King offered to let me see his fleet. I said that I hoped to see it some other time and then quietly retired in order to be relieved of the embarrassment of having to refuse his offer again.” Others, however, accused the General of being in England as a spy, whence he departed directly for America. …
Our destination was called Colle, in Virginia. … We arrived there the middle of February, 1779, having gone from Boston through the provinces of Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, travelling 678 English miles, in about twelve weeks. The house where we lived and the whole property belonged to an Italian, who let us live there during his absence, since he intended to be absent for a while. We looked forward longingly to his and his wife’s and daughter’s departure because the house was small, and, moreover, the scarcity of provisions annoyed them. Under the circumstances, the man preserved a kind of guardianship over us. For instance, on the first day, when he had had a ram killed, he gave us only the head, the neck, and the giblets, even though I pointed out to him that it would have to do for more than twenty people. He assured me it would make very good soup, and gave us two heads of cabbage and a partly spoiled ham, and thus we had to content ourselves.
The troops had been expected sooner, and therefore a number of cattle and pigs had been killed, and as salt was very scarce, holes had been dug in the ground, and the meat, cut in quarters and sprinkled with ashes —which is said to be just as good a preservative as saltwas buried therein. However, as the sun is often very warm there even in January, the top layers of meat were spoiled. The meat was brought to us in wheelbarrows. Sometimes we had to throw all of it away, but sometimes it could be washed off, salted, and then smoked. The first day, when I hardly had enough to eat for ourselves, I was alarmed to see eight of our officers approaching shortly before dinner. There was nothing to do but to share with them what little we had. The troops were in Charlottesville, two hours away. One had to go through a beautiful forest to get to them. At first they were very uncomfortable there. They had log cabins, but these were not plastered, and they lacked doors and windows, so they suffered terribly from the cold. They worked very hard to build better houses for themselves, and in a short time the place became a pretty town. Each of the barracks had a garden in the back and a nice little fenced-in yard for poultry. When the old supply of provisions had been eaten up, they received another lot of fresh meat and flour enough to make bread; moreover, Indian meal served for making pancakes and dumplings. The only thing they lacked was money . . . and it was hard to get anything on credit, which particularly troubled the private soldiers. …
We had a large house built with a big room in the center and two smaller rooms on each side, which cost my husband a hundred guineas. It was very pretty. A number of Negroes brought us everything they had in the way of poultry and vegetables. Every week General Phillips and we ourselves took turns in slaughtering an ox and two pigs. In a word, we had everything we needed. But in the summer we suffered terribly from, the heat and lived in constant fear of rattlesnakes. …
We had no chairs at all, only tree stumps on which to sit, and these were also used for tables by laying boards across them. We lived in this manner quite content for three or four months. Only my husband was always sad, and, what was more, he could not stand the heat at all, which went as high as 103 degrees and was most oppressive. We tried our best to cheer him up. When the vegetables in our garden began to come up he got a lot of pleasure from the garden work. However, as he would not wear a hat for this work, he suffered a great deal from headaches, and the heat bothered him. Thus he suffered a sunstroke, which was the beginning of my greatest grief. …
The doctor prescribed a cure at a spa in Virginia called Frederick’s Springs, so we went there. It was my opinion, however, that this cure made him worse rather than better, because he always moistened his head before taking the baths, and afterward, in spite of every effort to dry it, his hair always stayed damp. His melancholy mood continued, and the thought of our captivity worried him more than ever. He could not sleep at night. I would try to soothe him by reading aloud to him in a drowsy manner, and this would finally put him to sleep. His hands and feet were always blue, and cold as ice. Whenever I thought I might venture to lie down, his anguish would immediately awaken [us] again. Everything annoyed him. One day a Virginian came into the room, saying that he was curious to see a German woman, and looked me over from head to foot. I was very much amused about this, but when I took the man to see my husband, he became so excited over the thought that his position made him subject to the whims of other people that the tears came to his eyes. I was filled with regret over this thoughtlessness. …
The Virginians are mostly indolent, which is ascribed to their hot climate, but with the slightest inducement they are ready in an instant to dance; and if a reel (an English or Scottish folk-dance) is played the men immediately catch hold of the women, who then spring up as though possessed. But as soon as they are led back to their chairs, they sit there like blockheads again. What we had heard about the morals of the people in this part of the country does not make a favorable picture. For instance, we were told that two girls had been made pregnant by their own father, and that while this created a lot of gossip, it had remained unpunished. Another man, who found his daughter-inlaw more attractive than his own wife, made his son an offer to exchange wives, to which the son agreed on the condition that, in addition to getting his own mother for his wife, he also be given two cows and two horses, which was done, and nothing further was said about the affair.
The plantation-owners in Virginia have numerous Negro slaves and do not treat them well. Many of them let the slaves walk about stark naked until they are between fifteen and sixteen years old, and the clothes which they give them afterward are not worth wearing. The slaves are in the charge of an overseer who leads them out into the fields at daybreak, where they have to work like cattle or suffer a beating; and when they come home completely tired out and sunburnt they are given some Indian meal called hominy, which they make into baked stuff. … There are, of course, good masters too. One can recognize them immediately, because their slaves are well dressed and housed. These Negroes are very good servants, very faithful to their master, and very much attached to him. It is not surprising that the brutal type of masters have ill-disposed slaves.
During our stay at the spa my husband received the good news that he and General Phillips and their aides had permission to go to New York to be exchanged there. My husband, accordingly, went back to Colle to make arrangements for the maintenance, in his absence, of the troops, which he put in Colonel Specht’s command, and for the sale of all the things we would no longer require, particularly of our new house into which we had not even moved as yet. …
The von Riedesels left Virginia in August, 1779, and made their way toward New York, stopping over with loyalist families. When they reached Elizabeth, New Jersey, they felt elated and happy.
Being so near New York and sure of my husband’s exchange, we thought that we had now reached our immediate goals and ate our dinner there happily in the thought that, as we intended crossing over to New York directly afterward, we would be set free that same evening. But suddenly the door opened and an officer, who had been sent by General Washington, entered and handed General Phillips a letter, containing orders to return, as Congress had not given its approval to the exchange. The eyes of General Phillips, who was a very violent man, sparkled with fury. He hit the table with his fist, exclaiming, “This is pleasant!—and we should have expected it from these people, who are all rascals!” I was petrified and unable to speak a word. He took my hand and said, “Now, my friend, do not lose courage. Follow my example. See, I am quite composed!” “Everyone,” I replied, “has his own way of expressing sadness. I conceal mine in my heart, and you express yours by violence. In my opinion, however, you would do better not to show these people how angry you are, because they only scoff at you, and besides it may only cause you still further trouble.” He admitted I was right and assured me that he would bear his sorrow like me, with resignation, and was thereafter quiet.
I was pregnant and felt badly all the while, so the journey exhausted me exceedingly. I had hoped to be able to live quietly among people who would take care of me; but in vain! After only one day of rest, which had been granted us, we had to start on the return journey, and we stopped with the Van Homes again [a family the Riedesels had visited on their way to New Jersey]. This time we met a nephew of General Washington there [possibly George Augustine Washington, although his identity has never been established] with a number of American officers, who during the three days of their stay had succeeded in so changing the minds of these people (they were of the turncoat type), that not only did we find the daughter of these so-called royalists on the friendliest of terms with these anti-royalists, whom she allowed all sorts of liberties, but in addition, as they no longer felt that they needed to spare our feelings, we heard them singing all through the night “God save great Washington! God damn the King!” It was difficult for me to conceal my annoyance about this when we departed next morning.
We now returned to Bethlehem [Pennsylvania], where my husband and General Phillips had been given permission by the Americans to stay until the delayed exchange of prisoners should take place, and as our previous innkeeper had given us excellent service, we all stopped with him again. And, indeed, there were sixteen of us and four servants. The servants received money for their board. We had twenty horses. The innkeeper did not want to make a definite agreement, and as none of us had much money, we were glad that he was willing to wait until we had received some. We were even more inclined to regard him as an honest man, as he belonged to the Congregation of the Moravian Brethren, and the inn was the so-called Congregation Inn. But great was our horror, after staying there six weeks, when we were finally allowed to go to New York, on being presented with a bill for $32,000, American paper money, of course, which was around the sum of four hundred guineas. If it had not been for a royalist, who was passing through and who wanted to exchange coins at any price, we would have been greatly embarrassed and could not have left. Through this man we were fortunate enough to get eighty dollars in paper money for one piaster. …
Finally at the end of November, 1779, we left Bethlehem. My husband, General Phillips, and their aides were not exchanged, but they were given permission to go to New York on parole. …
Most of what is now New York City, including all of Manhattan Island, had been firmly in British hands since 1776. In spite of the city’s isolated position and the Baron’s ambiguous status “on parole,” New York obviously seemed an oasis of security to the Baroness.
We again passed through Elizabeth, where again we were very well received, crossed the Hudson, and reached New York late at night, my husband having gone on ahead. A soldier, who had been sent with us to show us the way, led us to a large, handsome house, where everything had been prepared for our coming, even a good supper. I was too busy putting the children to bed, and too tired myself, to ask where we were and thought it was an inn. My husband, who had eaten supper with General Cornwallis [then in New York as Clinton’s second in command], came home late. The next morning I was asked what I should like to have to eat. I replied that, as my husband would not take his meals at home, I should not need more than three dishes for six people; that is, for myself, my children, my maids, and Pastor Mylius, the chaplain of my husband’s regiment, who travelled with us and taught my children. He was a very pious man of excellent character, always in good spirits, much beloved by the children and all of us. I was told that orders had already been given to serve us six large and four small dishes every day. Still thinking that we were in an inn, I protested against such excess, as I feared the size of the bill. I learned then that we were in the home of the Governor [of the New York district], General Tryon, who had forbidden that I be told where I was being taken, because he was afraid that I would not accept his hospitality. In addition, this noble-minded gentleman had left for Long Island, where he had temporary command, in order to avoid our expressions of gratitude. Every wish of mine was anticipated, and I was ever fearful of taking advantage of so much kindness. General Pattison, commandant of the city, called on me and said that a house was being furnished for us, where we should make our real home. Lord Cornwallis and General Clinton [Sir Henry Clinton, commander in chief of the British armies] also both visited me. The latter offered to arrange for my stay at a country estate, which he had at his disposal, and where my children should be inoculated against smallpox, which would be too dangerous a procedure in the city, where there was an epidemic of this disease at the time. I gladly accepted this offer and made all necessary preparations to move there. I gave our cook ten guineas to buy all sorts of supplies. When he returned soon after and asked for more money, I learned to my horror that this was only enough to last for two days, everything being so expensive there, even the most simple food. …
The von Riedesels then spent a few weeks in General Clinton’s country house, the first of two stays there, while their daughters recovered from smallpox inoculations. When the family returned to New York, the Baroness was delighted to find their new home “furnished throughout with mahogany furniture,” courtesy of the British government.
As the birthday of the Queen of England drew near … it was decided to celebrate the day, as usual, with a big fete; and desiring to honor me—partly to please General Phillips, who wished it, and partly to help me forget all the trouble I had gone through—they chose me to be queen of the ball. In order to accomplish this the wife of General Cornwallis’ aide, who, as an English noblewoman ranked higher than I, and should, therefore, have been chosen, was persuaded to stay at home because she soon expected to be confined. When the festive day arrived, all the ladies went to General Tryon’s home, where I was received with all ceremony. The General presented all the ladies to me, some of whom plainly showed their jealousy at my having been thus honored. I declared immediately that I would only accept this distinction for that day alone, as they had wanted to do me the honor of letting me represent the Queen, but that afterward I would give place to the ladies who were older than I. As there were a number of them older than I, and some of them felt complimented by this remark, their faces brightened up and I was soon on cordial terms with them.
At six o’clock I got into the coach with General Tryon and General Pattison and drove to the ball, where I was received with drums and trumpets.
As my own pregnancy was pretty far advanced, I did not want to dance, but could not refuse to open the ball by dancing a minuet with one of the generals. Because of my condition, as well as my shyness, I felt that my dancing was not very good, but to encourage me the others said I did very well, so that I had to dance another minuet, and finally even some English dances as well. …
Not only this day, but all during my stay I was overwhelmed with kindness, and the rest of the winter was most pleasant, except that we suffered a great deal from the cold. The commissary had not had enough wood chopped because, in order to save money, he had wanted to have this done by Negro slaves. However, the winter had come earlier than usual, and as the rivers were half frozen, it was impossible to transport the wood either by boat or by sleighs, and the garrison was greatly in need of fuel. We received our tickets for wood, to be sure, but what good were they when there was none to be had? Frequently we had to borrow wood from General Tryon for Saturday and Sunday, which we returned to him on Monday, if we got some ourselves. The cold was so fierce that I often kept the children in bed, and often wood could not be bought at any price, and when it was sold it cost ten pounds a cord. … The poor people burned lard to warm their hands and to cook over.
One day I was visiting the lady who was the wife of General Cornwallis’ aide, and complained bitterly about our lack of wood; whereupon she promised to send me some coal, which I could return to her at my convenience. I was so delighted about this that Major Brown, a member of the commissary, who happened to be present and who had listened to my tale of woe with pity, went away very much touched.
The next day when I looked out of the window I saw four wagons stop in our street, loaded with big tree trunks, each wagon containing about two cords of wood. I went into the room where Pastor Mylius was sitting with the children by the fireplace, where our last log was burning, and said to him, “I have never known envy before, but I am so unhappy now to see how the children are suffering from the cold that I cannot help feeling envious; for someone next door to us is just being delivered four wagons full of wood. How happy I would be to have only one of them!” Hardly had I finished speaking when one of the servants brought me Major Brown’s regard and the message that he was sending this wood to us, and that should we ever be short of wood again, we should let him know immediately. … he had given orders that some trees in the large avenue on the outskirts of the city be chopped….
[On] March 7, I gave birth to a daughter. My husband had wished for a son, but the little one was so pretty that we were reconciled over it not having been a boy. We had intended naming the boy Americus, but the name now had to be changed for the little daughter into America. …
Six weeks later my husband persuaded me to go to a dinner given by General Tryon. This plan had been arranged by them so that during my absence my husband could have the baby inoculated by an English doctor, because the smallpox was raging so in the city. He did this therefore, without my knowledge to save me anxiety, and he would have succeeded in concealing it from me, had his fatherly uneasiness not betrayed him. He came every few moments to see how the baby was and soon was saying, “How pale she is!” or “She must be ill,” so that I finally began to grow anxious and told him he must have a reason to be so uneasy and asked whether he had had her inoculated. Right away I drew back the sleeves and saw two spots on each arm. I must admit that for a moment I was very angry, but I appreciated my husband’s good purpose. The little one became so ill that we feared we might lose her. My poor husband was inconsolable, because he blamed himself for it all, and I had all I could do in sustaining his spirits. But, God be praised, all went well. …
Through the whole winter General Phillips, General Tryon, and General Pattison were our constant friends and guests, and every week we gave a dinner for the gentlemen. That was all we could manage, because everything in the city had grown dreadfully expensive. At the end of the winter General Tryon left for England, and before his departure, without telling me about it beforehand, he sent me magnificent furniture, rugs and curtains, and a silk tapestry that would cover an entire room. I shall never forget the numerous tokens of friendship which I received from almost everyone of this excellent nation, and it will always be a pleasure to me to be able to assist the English, for I know from experience how wonderful it is to be treated so well in a strange country.
At this time began our friendship with General Clinton. … Like all Englishmen, it was difficult at first to make friends with him. His first visit was merely a matter of form, paid to us in his capacity as commander in chief, attended by his whole staff. Since his manner and conversation were pleasant, I told his friend, General Phillips, that I was sorry that he treated us so ceremoniously, and that I would much rather associate with him on more friendly terms. Later on he offered us his country home for the summer, which we gladly accepted. It was magnificent. The location was the most beautiful, there were orchards and meadows, and the [East] River flowed past the house. Everything was at our disposal, including more fruit than we could eat. Our servants ate enormous quantities of peaches, and our horses, which grazed under the fruit trees, ate the fruit right off the trees and spurned to eat that which had fallen to the ground. We had this fallen fruit gathered every evening and fed it to the pigs. It would seem incredible that we fattened six pigs, whose meat was excellent, on this fruit alone, and only the fat was a bit flabby. Peach and apricot trees grow here that are exactly like other fruit, and are never grown on espaliers, their trunks being just as thick as those of ordinary trees. …
General Clinton often came there to visit us, but dressed only in his hunting clothes and accompanied by a single aide and said, “I know you prefer having me visit you as a friend, and as I feel the same, I shall always come to you that way.” The last time he came he brought with him the unfortunate Major André, who became so well known, and who, on the following day, went on the fatal expedition where he was caught by the Americans and later hanged as a spy. It was very sad, because this excellent young man was the victim of his zeal for service and his good heart, which had made him take upon himself a mission which had been assigned to another officer, too old and well known, whose turn it really was, and whose life, therefore, was in greater danger and whom he wanted to save.
We spent our time as pleasantly as possible. Our peace, however, was disturbed by the fever epidemic in New York at the time. [Following the smallpox epidemic, cholera had broken out in the city.] Twenty in our house alone grew ill, and eight of them were in great danger; among these eight were my husband and my daughter, little Augusta. My sorrow and anxiety can be imagined! I did nothing day and night but divide my time nursing my husband and daughter. My husband was so ill that we often thought he would not live through the day, and little Augusta had such fever attacks that when she had a chill she begged me to lie on her, and although she was only nine years old, she thoroughly shook me and the whole bed. It was during chills like this that the patients usually passed away, and I was told daily that fifty or sixty more people had been buried, which, of course, did not help to make me more cheerful. Also temperatures during this fever were so frightful that pulses were 135. All our servants were ill, and I had to do everything myself. I was nursing my little America at the time, and my care of the sick left me neither the time nor the desire to lie in bed, except while I was nursing the baby. Then while doing this I lay down in my bed and slept. At night I was usually busy making lemonade for my patients, which I made with absinthiated salts, lemon juice, sugar, and water. In the space of two weeks I used two cases of lemons containing five hundred each, as all my patients were given this drink. …
Of the thirty persons in our house, only ten stayed well. The cook, the kitchen maid, and so on, all became sick and could only alternate in performing their duties on their better days. And besides all this we had horribly hot weather. It is amazing what a human can bear . . . but nevertheless it makes me happy to think that I have been useful, and that without my efforts my dear ones, who now make me so happy, perhaps would no longer be with me.
At last all of our household who had been sick became well again, and not one had died, which was a rich reward for my efforts. We spent the whole summer of 1780 at this most lovely country seat. … My husband, General Phillips, and their aides were finally exchanged in the autumn of 1780.
After nearly a year on parole in New York, General von Riedesel, along with General Phillips, was exchanged for the American General Benjamin Lincoln, who had been captured by the British at Charleston during the previous summer. The exchange agreement permitted the Baron to go back on active duty, and he commanded troops on Long Island during the winter of 1780-81. The following summer, he was transferred to Canada to take command of all German troops there. The Riedesels lived on “a magnificent farm” in Sorel, where the Richelieu and St. Lawrence rivers converge. In August, 1783, having been informed that a preliminary peace treaty between England and America had been signed, General von Riedesel took his family—including three-year-old America—and his troops home to Germany.